Jun 17, 2019

Fresno State golf coach has strong ties to PGA

Associated Press File

Not many people can say they have played on the PGA Tour. Not many people can make a living off the sport they love. Fresno State’s Mike Watney can claim both.

Watney is the coach of the Fresno State men’s golf team. He was also a member of the PGA Tour for a little over half a year.

“Being on tour was tremendously exciting,” Watney said. “My wife, Paula, and I loved traveling around the country and experiencing that life for a few months. I was not a successful PGA Tour player. I won some events such as the Northern California PGA Championship and some mini-tour events, but I would have been a journeyman at best if I stayed on tour.”

Towards the end of his time on the tour, Watney, a Fresno State alum, received a call from then athletic director Gene Bourdet about a job opportunity. Bourdet was calling to ask Watney to interview for the golf coach position.

“I had been an All-American golfer at Fresno State,” Watney said. “So they remembered me when it came time to look for another golf coach.”

Watney, who has been golfing since he was 8-years-old, said he had never really thought about becoming a college golf coach until he received that call.

“I was a PGA member, and I thought that if I didn’t play the tour I would be a golf professional at a golf course somewhere,” Watney said. “When the opportunity came up, it sounded like a good idea.”

Watney has been coaching ever since. Now going on his 31st year as the head coach, he has seen a handful of Fresno State golfers go on to have success on the PGA Tour. Most notably is his nephew, Nick Watney, who has been playing strongly of late and just finished this year 12th on the FedEx points list.

“It is really exciting to have someone you know well do great on the tour,” Watney said. “When it’s family, it’s even better. We do kind of live and die with his ups and downs, but with Nick, it’s been pretty darn good.”

Watney has been fortunate enough to see his nephew play in such prestigious events as the U.S. Open and the British Open.

“Who knows if we would have ever gone to St. Andrews in Scotland if we didn’t go to watch him,” Watney said.

Watney has even been the reason some golfers come to Fresno State. Brian Sunker, for example, is a junior golfer with such a story.

“I came to Fresno State because of Coach Watney and the fact that I saw an opportunity to really improve,” Sunker said. “I’m really happy to play for Coach Watney I think he’s one of the best coaches around. He knows a lot about the game and can really help.”

Watney is excited for the second portion of this season and expects to have a very solid team. With numerous returners and a few newcomers who he feels may be able to crack the lineup, he expects to have a competitive team this year.
“We’ll have more competition within the team to be the starters, so that will force all the guys to work harder,” Watney said. “This is a dedicated group of guys who like each other too, and that is important for the success of the team. It’s going to be a great year.”

Watney is very grateful for his time as a college golf coach. He feels he has learned a lot from many of the great coaches to pass through Fresno State.

“Not only did they know the X’s and O’s, most of them have been people of great character and high integrity who taught values that their student athletes could grasp for a lifetime,” Watney said. “They were a great influence on me, and hopefully I am passing some of that on to my athletes.”

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